Edward Wadsworth

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Edward Wadsworth
Edward Wadsworth.jpg
Wadsworth in 1916
Edward Alexander Wadsworth

29 October 1889 (1889-10-29)
Died21 June 1949 (1949-06-22) (aged 59)
Bayswater, London, England
Known forPainting
Movement Vorticism
Edward Wadsworth and Wyndham Lewis at the Rebel Art Centre, March 1914, with Kate Lechmere and Cuthbert Hamilton (seated). Kate Lechmere, Cuthbert Hamilton (seated), Edward Wadsworth and Wyndham Lewis 1914.jpg
Edward Wadsworth and Wyndham Lewis at the Rebel Art Centre, March 1914, with Kate Lechmere and Cuthbert Hamilton (seated).

Edward Alexander Wadsworth ARA (29 October 1889 – 21 June 1949) was an English artist, closely associated with modernist Vorticism movement. He painted coastal views, abstracts, portraits and still-life in tempera medium and works printed using wood engraving and copper. In the First World War he designed dazzle camouflage for the Royal Navy, and continued to paint nautical themes after the war.


Abstract Composition, 1915 Tate Gallery. Wadsworth, Abstract Composition.jpg
Abstract Composition, 1915 Tate Gallery.

Early life and study

Wadsworth was born on 29 October 1889 in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, and educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh. [1] He studied engineering in Munich between 1906 and 1907, where he studied art in his spare time at the Knirr School. This provoked a change of course, as he attended Bradford School of Art before earning a scholarship to the Slade School of Art, London. [2] His contemporaries at the school included Stanley Spencer, CRW Nevinson, Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington and David Bomberg.


Wadsworth's work was included in Roger Fry's second Post-Impressionism Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries, 1912, in London, but he changed allegiance shortly after through friendship with Wyndham Lewis, and exhibited some futurist-derived paintings at the Futurist Exhibitions at the Doré Gallery. Although a member of the committee that organised a dinner in honour of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1913, he was one of a number of British painters in the nascent avant-garde that became increasingly disenchanted with the Italian's arrogance. By June of the following year, he was in a group of artists, including Lewis, who jeered Marinetti's public performance of The Battle Of Adrianople. [3] He was a signatory of the Vorticist Manifesto published in BLAST the next month, [4] and also supplied a review of Kandinsky's Concerning The Spiritual In Art and images to be reproduced in the magazine. [5]

First World War

Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool, 1919, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool.jpg
Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool , 1919, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

Thirty three days after the Vorticist Manifesto was published, war was declared on Germany. Vorticism managed to continue into 1915, with a Vorticist Exhibition, June 1915 at the Doré Gallery and a second edition of BLAST published to coincide with the show. Wadsworth contributed to both, but signed up for the navy shortly after. His fellow vorticist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was killed at the front and Bomberg and Lewis found that their belief in the purity of the machine age was seriously challenged by the realities of the trenches. Wadsworth spent the war in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on the island of Mudros until invalided out in 1917, transferring dazzle camouflage designs onto allied ships. [6] [7] Known as Dazzle ships, these vessels were not camouflaged to become invisible, but instead used ideas derived from Vorticism and Cubism to confuse enemy U-boats trying to pinpoint the direction and speed of travel. [8] Dazzle camouflage was invented and designed by Norman Wilkinson. Always a fan of modern ships, Wadsworth was to use nautical themes in his art for the rest of his career.

The return to order

Heralded by the major painting Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool , 1919, Wadsworth moved away from the avant-garde in the 1920s, and adopted a more realistic style. Wadsworth was a member of Unit One. Towards the end of his life his work became increasingly strange and surreal, although Wadsworth never had any formal links with the official Surrealist movement.

Gravestone, Brompton Cemetery, London EdwardWadsworthBrompton.jpg
Gravestone, Brompton Cemetery, London

Later life

Wadsworth died in 1949, and is buried in Brompton Cemetery.


The graphic designer Peter Saville had seen Wadsworth's painting Dazzle-ships in Drydock at Liverpool and was struck by the image. After suggesting the idea and title to Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Saville carried the theme over to the sleeve design of their album Dazzle Ships (1983).

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  1. Distinguished old Fettesians Archived 22 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Essay on Wadsworth, Richard Cork, Oxford Art Online
  3. Breaking The Rules, Bury, British Library, p112
  4. Cooper, Philip. Cubism. London: Phaidon, 1995, p. 104. ISBN   0714832502
  5. Blast 1, Lewis et al., Bodley Head, 1914
  6. "Vorticism". Edward Wadsworth. Vorticism.co.uk. Archived from the original on 17 February 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  7. Modernist Art in Camouflage Archived 29 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Dazzle Painting

Further reading